Harry Houdini: A Magical Life
Author: Elizabeth MacLeod
Pages: 32
Publisher/Date: Kids Can Press/2005
ISBN: 1553377699
Age Levels: 8-12

Book Review

In the first chapter of this biography, author Elizabeth MacLeod writes: Houdini "thought he was a great magician and wasn’t afraid to say so. He also loved a good story and sometimes even made up things so he’d sound more amazing. Harry’s stories were so convincing that it can be difficult to know the truth about his life." Anyone who has attempted to research Houdini’s life knows the reality of that last statement. Conjured tales and half-truths abound. MacLeod does a fine job of separating fact from fiction.

Born Erich Weisz, Houdini was born in Hungary in 1874 (although he claimed to have been born in the United States). His early life was one of poverty and want. His fascination with the art of magic began in his late teens. He was determined to become a famous magician—much like his hero, the French showman Jean-Eugene Robert-Houdin.

Although Houdini had some small successes, by 1899 Houdini was ready to give up and sell his magic tricks (for $20). It was then that a theater manager named Martin Beck saw his act and gave him his big break. From then on, Houdini, along with his wife Bess, began to concentrate on escapes. It was not long until Houdini became a much sought-after (and highly paid) entertainer, traveling the world.

In addition to chronicling Houdini’s life, MacLeod describes the danger that the magician faced as well as the incredible strains oftentimes put on his body. Houdini died on October 31, 1926 of a ruptured appendix.

MacLeod does an admirable job of blending factual information with the dramatic episodes that characterized Houdini’s life. The book is visually striking in its design. The text is divided into two-page chapters. The writing is found on each left-hand page, while the right-hand page includes photographs and illustrations. A time-line of Houdini’s life is included as is an index.

Classroom Use: We took this biography into a fifth-grade classroom. The students were immediately drawn to the book and gave it high praise. One reader deemed it "exciting and a lot of fun to read."

Reviewed by the teachers at Education Oasis
©2005 Education Oasis http://www.educationoasis.com

About the Author

Elizabeth MacLeod lives in Toronto, Ontario.